tv Iran Protests CSPAN January 7, 2018 5:11am-6:39am EST
it has been for some i have it has been for some i have known. i have known people who became judges and so disliked the decision-making process that they left the bench. i was an advocate. i found the decision-making process, while it was different, enormously challenging and satisfying. i like being in a turning but i loved being judge because the opportunity to resolve disputes large and small, they all matter to somebody but some of them have a large public significance. that is a very satisfying role. on book tv onht c-span 2. >> now an update on the ongoing protests in iran. posted by the washington institute for near east policy. and 35 minutes.
>> welcome and thank you for making the effort to get here. i don't think any of us thought that the iran story we would be focusing on would be the story, the story of protest, domestic unrest, the biggest demonstrations we have seen since 2009. whatever one expected to be talking about this week and next week was the question of sanctions waivers, decertification of the gcpoa, and efforts of congress to amend legislation. that is all still in play, but now it has been cast in a different light by what is
happening inside iran. we have convened a panel of our experts to discuss this issue. the protests in iran and their implications for the region and u.s. policy from a lot of different angles. i'm going to introduce folks in the order i am going to call on them. we will start with patrick clauson. he is our senior fellow and
director of research at the institute. he is going to look at the background of these protests. where are they coming from, what are the causes and what has been happening inside of iran that can explain the unrest we are he is our senior fellow and seeing. then we will turn via video to our colleague who was one of washington's most skillful seeing. interpreters of domestic events in iran at where they might be going in the future. then we will turn to mike, the con fellow and director of our military security studies here. he will look at the role of security services in these protests, and what the protests might mean for the future of those security forces, both within and outside of iran. finally, i will turn to our friedman visiting fellow, who is going to look at how these protests might reverberate in lebanon, outside of iran's borders, certainly where iran is spending those billions of dollars that protesters have cited as one of their grievances. throughout all of this, as is
our practice, we will talk about what u.s. policymakers should be doing about all of this. i think so far, i would just give you my one minute of personal take. so far, i think the trump administration has tried to demonstrate its support for the protesters through the president's twitter feed and officials, and it's trying to rally some international response or pressure to complement the u.s. statements. so far, international statements have been mild compared to american statements. that effort is still underway. i'm sure we will see this effort develop as the days and weeks unfold. we may see more sanctions on iran for human rights abuses, and i think this will play into those big decisions coming next week regarding sanctions waivers and the certification of the jcpoa. i will leave my contribution at that and turn it now to patrick. i think we will be speaking from the table and less you want to come up. >> my former colleagues at the
international monetary fund have >> my former colleagues at the made reports about iran's economy would say that is pretty good. that iran's gdp is going to grow this year more than the u.s. gdp. that their budget deficit is lower than the united states. iran is running a healthy account surplus unlike the united states which runs a large deficit. the picture looks pretty decent. i thought that it was telling that when "the new york times" ran a very nice article the other day about iran's economic situation, it was written by a novelist who got the economic situation much better than my colleagues did, which is that while the macroeconomic numbers might be pretty good, the situation for ordinary iranians has not been. it has not been at all a
trickle-down. in fact, in the annual survey that iran does of the living standards of people, it has shown that those standards are still 10% or a little more than 10% below what they were, a decade ago and unemployment is rising. 12.5%. in fact, what is happening is that as more jobs are being created, more people are coming into the labor force. we discovered there are a lot of iranians who always wanted to have jobs but got discouraged and dropped out of the labor force in a no coming back in. in particular, inflation is back up. that was the one great accomplishment of rouhani's first term. he was able to bring inflation down from 43% down into the single digits. it is back up again.
and furthermore, the price increases are concentrated in the items that are consumed by ordinary working people. so bread prices rose for the first time in three years by 15% a couple weeks ago. iranians eat 353 pounds of bread a year. think about that. famously, egg prices and chicken prices are up sharply. furthermore, the rich in iran are flaunting their wealth. i recommend the instagram famously, egg prices and chicken prices are up sharply. furthermore, the rich in iran account that has well over a quarter million followers which is called rich kids of tehran. is called rich kids of tehran. you can see the lifestyles of the truly ostentatious. if you're in the market for a nice maserati, you can see a good selection of them. the parties that they throw, the clothes that they wear. i know enough about clothing to say that is expensive.
frankly, it looks like nothing so much, the feel and iran right now is nothing so much like what happened in the shah's days. where he organized a coronation ceremony, bringing thousands of foreign guests, chefs from france, they drank over 2000 bottles of wine. the ostentatious wealth. and the shah's government really shifted from concentrating on national economic development to concentrating on a good time for the select few. that is increasingly what the islamic republic feels like. that is the overall picture behind these protests. let me focus on two specific issues. one is the cost of iran's destabilizing foreign activities. we often say, their support for these various terrorist
movements and their nuclear program is really not that expensive. that may be true in absolute numbers if you compare it to the size of the united states economy, but it's not particularly true compared to the size of iran's economy. we don't have precise numbers on how much they spend on supporting the syrian government and various terrorist groups. the u.s. government often likes to use its internal thinking, the number $7 billion a year, which i think is high. but if we throw in the nuclear program and the missile program, it is certainly in the billions of dollars. it would be hard to make the argument that the expenditures are less than $4 billion or $5 billion a year, roughly half of that going to the syrian government, a big chunk of that going to hezbollah. and nuclear is not cheap,
either. that is 1% of gdp. by comparison, 1% of gdp in the united states would be $180 billion. i don't think anyone would say that $180 billion is a small amount of money. 1% of gdp is real money. and that is a minimal estimate. that is just the direct cost. if we throw in indirect cost, we get a much higher number. the new budget that was proposed by president rouhani for the next fiscal year in iran says that military expenditures are going to be $12 billion. much of that is frankly not necessary, except because of iran's adventurous foreign policy.
there is another 1% of gdp at least that is due to the foreign policy. that $12 billion estimate, some people said he is trying to inflate it in order to embarrass the revolutionary guard. that is the arabian government estimate. the stockholm peace research institute says that is how much they spend. my first point would be iran's destabilizing activities are real money. it is instructive that the amount of money that iran is spending on these activities, minimal estimate, 1% of gdp, that is more than the budget cuts that rouhani proposed. he proposed cutting in half the expenditure in cash money given to the ordinary iranians. that would not have been necessary except for the expenditure on the destabilizing activities. my second point would be things can get a whole lot worse. the banking system in iran is tottering.
there has been an explosion in credit institutions. they are kind of like credit unions. they hold about 25% of deposits. many of them are connected to the revolutionary guard, many of them are connected to clerics who claim they are collecting unions. they hold about 25% of deposits. many of them are connected to islamic taxes. these institutions have paid little attention to the central bank of iran and they have been paying outrageous deposit rates and charging outrageous loans. when you're charging 35% per year for loans, there is not a lot of legitimate economic activity that can pay that rate. several of them failed in november and we saw street
protests in tehran. the first time we saw chants of death to khamenei. if the institution fails, you lose your money. there is no insurance. if the institution fails, you the banks are not in much better shape. they are desperate for liquidity. they have been borrowing from credit institutions. the central bank of iran has put a cap on the amount that institutions can pay in interest. 90% of the institutions have violated that cap. the central bank has been trying to get iran's banks to report under iran's generally accepted accounting practices, not international generally accepted accounting practices. the few banks that have done that have gone from reporting
profits to massive losses. the government has spent two years dithering about the situation. there has been no action or proposals to modify the central bank law to allow it to regulate credit institutions. this is a classic recipe for disaster. if you think that i am exaggerating, let me quote from rouhani's speech. he said 25% of the money market is in the hand of six institutions. when they want, they interfere with the money market, the global market and the real estate market. i raise this issue with great urgency with the supreme leader. 3 million to 4 million people are having their lives totally ruined by the actions of these
fraudulent institutions. i've gotten pressure from all sides. you will not believe the pressure letters i have started to get from different institutions in the state. frankly, the banking system in iran could collapse. and as i say, there is no deposit insurance. this is what keeps iran's banks isolated from the international financial system. independent of what happens with u.s. sanctions, independent of what happens with the financial action task force which is meeting this month and will evaluate how iran's action plan is going, it is this problem with the banks that keeps the banks away from the international financial institution. one last word of pessimism about -- we economists like to steal from other social scientists. demographers tell us if young
people go out onto the street and protest, and that is what you are seeing here. there is a general rule of thumb that revolutions are more likely to occur in countries where the median age is under 26, which is where iran was in 1999. iran's population is rapidly aging. today, the median age in iran is the exact age as globally. it is slightly higher than the median age in israel. it is eight years higher than the median age in egypt and pakistan, 10 years higher than the median age in india or iraq. 11 years higher than afghanistan. with the average age in iran being 31, and revolutions rarely occurring when the average age is over 26, i'm afraid that does not give us the basis for optimism. by the way, within the decade, the average age will get to be 36. >> thank you, patrick. i feel like with everything that has happened in 2017 and 2018, we all feel like we are rapidly aging.
>> let me just say that first, the regime has been very effective in closing down information coming out of iran. as result, it is been hard to read events there. as a result, it's been difficult to read events going on thousands of miles away during potentially violent and revolutionary situations. even the videos getting out have been very low-quality and it is hard to judge what is going on on the streets. that said, my comments are somewhat tentative, but there are a number of things that are rooted in long-term trends in iranian society and the way that the regime has responded to previous bouts of violence which
enable us to create a framework of analysis. let me just say, the first thing in talking about these kinds of events in iran is to understand that the founders of the islamic republic are revolutionaries and there is nothing revolutionaries fear more than counter revolution. first of all, they know revolutions can occur. they made a revolution once in their youth. also, the political style, the political culture in iran is rooted in a conspiratorial worldview. that tends to see conspiracies all around the islamic republic. some of these conspiracies are true. there have been conspiracies in
the past. that also kind of informs the regime's response. finally, what they have seen is in the past, many of the events of the violence, whether it be 2009 or 1999 or the mid-90's were in cities and were done by, in many cases, the urban middle and upper classes. now, we see a series of protests which involve the provincial working-class. while the recent events have exposed deep class and regional cleavages in iranian society, it does not bode well for the future. one of the things people said in 2009, if only people protesting from the urban upper classes could get the rural, working-class involved, the regime would be in trouble. air involve known, but the urban middle and upper classes are more interested in revolutionary change and reform, and not in revolution. the most important classes in the country, or least elements
of those classes, have shown to be disaffected from the regime. another thing that the regime is concerned about is that in the past, they have been concerned about invasion and rightfully so. historically, iran has been invaded a number of times. the arab invasion, the mongols, world war ii, the brits and the russians, and then you had iraq in 2003. after 2003 with the u.s. getting mired in counterinsurgency campaigns, those fears have diminished somewhat and iran has been concerned more about what they call soft warfare, efforts to subvert the regime. iran has great strategic depth or geographic depth to deal with invasion. they have mountains around the
perimeter of the country. but every iranian citizen is vulnerable to messages, subversive messages brought in from outside the country. they have those strategic depths perimeter of the country. in those areas, that is why they put emphasis on jamming satellite communication, controlling the internet and the like. let me say a few things about the lessons the people who rule iran today drew from their experience in making the revolution against the shah. these lessons have been modified by their own experiences in dealing with subsequent bouts of violence. first, the need for strong decisive leadership by the political echelon.
the shah was constantly riddled with doubt. he was suffering from health problems. he was on medications, he was constantly fearful the united states would abandon him and throw him under the bus. as a result, he did not show the necessary resolve when push came to shove to do what needed to be done from the regime's point of view, to stay in power. as a result, the islamic republic has by and large been very quick in responding to signs of opposition to the regime. we have seen this, i think because of the social base of the opposition, this time, they were a little more hesitant for reasons i will explain more. it has to do with the social composition of security forces. at least in part. there are also political considerations. secondly, the security forces must be resourced and given strong political support. the shah converted his military from a pillar of the regime to a regional power projection force during the course of his rule. when the event in 1978 and 1979 occurred, they were not prepared
for internal security. as a result, they did not perform well in this role, either acting with excessive or insufficient restraint in some occasions, resulting in large numbers of casualties, but not enough to nip in the bud the revolution and kow the opposition. also the shah's response and his self-doubt prevented the military from operating effectively. the security forces must also be properly trained, equipped and employed. we have seen, iran has spent a lot of money on riot forces. they have special units with riot gear. i am not sure the training is so great. that is one issue where i think they could use more work. one thing that has been very important as the result of the experience in the revolution, what happened during the revolution is the shah, when
people were killed, you would have a 40 day mourning period, and when it was over, you had more demonstrations with more people killed, and you had this snowball effect. as a result, the current regime is very careful in its use of lethal force to prevent that dynamic. they tend to rely on face-to-face violence on the street and by and large, only very discriminate use of firearms. there have been some cases i think discipline by arms have been used, maybe it was selectively done in the current round of violence, but they are very careful to avoid engaging in lethal overkill. finally, morale and cohesion in security forces must be
preserved. during the shah's rule, a lot of the junior ranks of the military, the junior officers had recently gotten college degrees and they were exposed to many of the revolutionary currents then present in iran. as a result, many were sympathetic to the opposition as many of the enlisted ranks from the same social background as the people who made the revolution. this has been a constant problem degrees and they were exposed to many of the revolutionary or constant fear of the islamic republic. this was not so much a problem in 1999 or 2009, when the security forces who were high and large drawing not from major cities or lower middle classes and the working classes dealing with upper-class people in the class divide that was at work. during the current round of violence, this is a real problem because now you have the people who in theory the revolution was
made for going against the security forces who are supposed to be protecting those people and representing those people. in many cases, are drawn from those parts of iranian society. this has also been a factor in their very restrained and careful response in dealing with the current violence. that said, let me discuss iran's method, their art and science of social control. as i mentioned, trying to avoid large-scale use of lethal force. there is no tiananmen square moment. like we saw when the protests in china, the army went out with tanks on the streets. you don't see that in iran today, in part because there is today, in part because there is fear that this would fracture
the military but also they don't want to set in train this kind of snowballing effect of opposition against the regime. they prefer face-to-face melees involving truncheons, there were chains involved. that would kow the people who are left down hearted. who wants to deal with face-to-face violence? it is very intimidating and has a cowing effect on the opposition. they prefer to identify leaders of the opposition and pull them away, put them under house arrest, induce confessions that they are working with foreign intelligence services and thereby demoralize the opposition.
as we saw in 2009, a lot of counterprotesters were brought in, subject to all kind of mistreatment, and then they were released to go home to speak of counterprotesters were brought what they went through under tension, extremely humiliating and had a dramatic psychological impact in terms of demoralizing the opposition. undermining the morale of the opposition is key to how the iranians do it. they focus on decapitation but what do you do when you have leaderless opposition? decapitation does not work under the current circumstances. patient attrition, demoralization, pushing back gradually over time is their preferred way of doing these things. let me quote from a newsweek correspondent who was in iran in 2009 to cover the uprising. we talked about what he was told by government minister of the techniques of dealing with these problems. he said the minister said the problem with the shah's police is they thought they could break a prisoner's will through
physical pressure. that often just hardened their resolve. what our brothers have masterminded is how to break a man's soul without using as much violence against his body. i think that encapsulates the regime's approach. how does this and and where does it go? i have no idea on the future trajectory of violence and opposition in iran. these things are impossible to predict. to some extent, it will be a function of how the regime handles it. violence. handles it. if they engage in missteps, we could see a dramatic increase in you had a black sunday in 1978
when several hundred people were killed and that further energized the revolution. if they engage in missteps, it could add new impetus to the opposition. long-term, in the past, we have seen iran after the u.s. invasion of iraq, devoting a lot more resources to internal security forces don't have to fight in american invasion force. we're likely to see a diversion of resources more to internal security, away from force building that might have use in external operations. that said, in terms of iran's appointments in places like syria and yemen and iraq, they are using small numbers of people from a small portion of the military and also some other parts of the irgc. it has never been less than a fraction of 1%, the iranian military deployed overseas as part of their regional activities. i don't think it will have a major impact on their activities in syria. anyhow, syria is kind of winding down and iranian casualties are way down over previous months. to the degree that people are demanding an end to iran's foreign interventions, they can say, we are pulling back and retrenching.
deaths in syria in december compared to the previous month. i think all they have to do is use more lebanese, afghani's and they will be ok in that regard. finally, in terms of policy recommendations, what we should be doing, i think by and large events in iran will be affected most by developments on the ground, but i think it is important that we do certain things to shield who we can, the iranian people, from potentially harsh actions by the regime and create space for the opposition to continue to protest peacefully. the longer these go on, the more it will have an impact on the economy. in that light, there is no reason for us to snap back on
nuclear sanctions because it will have an impact on slowing down the economy. people will stay home because of the security situation and any company that was thinking about investing in iran now will think twice. the numbers that were thinking of investing were much less than expected because of the threat of american sanctions. i think this will only further chase potential investors away. i think really, there is no need for us to not waive the nuclear
sanctions. we should continue with a policy we are going. don't pull out of jcpoa. that would redirect the attention of the iranian people from the regime's inability to solve their financial problems to us, and we should not make the united states the issue. i will conclude my comments with that. thank you. >> thanks very much. i think we are ready to go. let's try turning to him once again. we still cannot hear him. i assure you that he is normally audible when he speaks. we can hear us but we cannot hear him. so maybe we should move on. let's move on. sort of a game of musical chairs. take it away. >> thank you very much. the protests we are witnessing today in iran are not restricted -- >> apologies. [dialing noise] --
>> can you hear us? let's just move on. thank you. >> so the discontent and the anger that has sparked the protests in iran that we are seeing is not restricted to iran when it comes to the regime operations in the region. hezbollah is facing its own and similar challenges in its own constituency in lebanon. the context and the signs of discontent in lebanon within the
shia community are similar to what we are seeing in iran today and the background of the protests. a little context. the accumulating anger that led to these protests, we have been seeing a lot of signs of a accumulating anger within the shiite community in lebanon. this has increased with hezbollah's activity in the war in syria. not just because the war is dragging and has caused the shiite community more losses than in all of hezbollah's wars combined. this has increased with hezbollah's activity in the war but mainly because it has affected the economic situation of hezbollah, as well. in lebanon, the only institutions paying salaries on time today are the lebanese government and hezbollah. the rest of the private sector, local ngos and even -- except
for the international companies, of course, are going through major economic problems. hezbollah and the lebanese state are paying salaries on time. in hezbollah's southern suburbs, there are 4.5 million lebanese in lebanon, you have 700,000 residents in that area. within the shiite community as a whole, according to estimates, a quarter of the shiites in lebanon are on hezbollah's payroll. the rest are facing problems. this is just the context. with the syria war and economic
problems with iran, hezbollah's budget has not decreased but has changed drastically. in the past, before the war in syria, the whole shiite community was benefiting from hezbollah social services which has also served non-shiites in lebanon. in the past, before the war in syria, the whole shiite allied lebanese. at one point, the circle of beneficiaries started to shrink to only hezbollah's shiites, not all of the shiites. today, social services have shrank to only catering to hezbollah's fighters and immediate families. what we have today is hezbollah paying salaries for people to go fight and people are going to fight in order to get the salaries, because for these people, it is not about fighting for the cause, they don't really feel that they are doing this because the road to jerusalem passes through damascus. they don't really believe that.
they are doing it because the salary is available. for the rest, the economic problems have really increased and the class divisions are very clear. if you go today, you have very poor neighborhoods and very rich neighborhoods. the middle class neighborhoods are starting to disintegrate into poor or rich. like what was considered a neighborhoods. middle-class neighborhood, part of it today is very poor and the rest is rich. the rich are benefiting from the war in syria and the poor have no options but the fight in syria. those fighting in syria are getting the salary and also whatever is left of the social services. what you have today is a huge gap, not only a class division but a huge cultural gap between the fighters and the non-fighters. this is creating tension between the two communities within the shiite community. the fighters community and the rest of the community including
hezbollah's community. the signs of discontent have been expressed several times in lebanon and there have been protests inside beirut. which is their stronghold. they were not reported because they were not considered important and because they were contained quickly. there have been protests, one of them was probably more important, in the poorest neighborhood in hezbollah's stronghold in beirut. for the first time, the shiites went to the street, not the first time they went to the street but the first time they went to the street and actually badmouthed hezbollah and the war in syria. this is never happened before, and this happened only a few months ago. there have been economic protests against inflation, against social services, but this is the first time there have been protests by hezbollah supporters against political issues. this has been the case. only last year, during municipal elections in lebanon, some of
hezbollah's headquarters, 45% of the shiites voted against hezbollah combined. this is only one example of many places in lebanon where the shiites voted against hezbollah. these are some signs of discontent that are in a way similar to what we are seeing in iran. the protests have been contained by force. the people who badmouth hezbollah were forced to apologize in front of a camera and they apologize because of fear, not because of regret. it does not mean the discontent has gone, nothing has really changed. and they apologize because of we are looking today at 2018 as
the next step for hezbollah and ..the lebanese in general where we have the parliamentary elections. the next parliamentary election's in may. hezbollah is already seen by the shiites in lebanon as the authority without services. in 2018, it will be the authority when they win almost 70% of the parliament in limited and they will be officially the authority and they will also keep on having decreased social services but the shiites will still not be benefiting from this authority, which means that i would not be surprised if we see more protests within the shiite community and that the protests continue in iran and things start to develop in lebanon, this will reverberate and the shiites will see this as a sign for them to go more because they are already there. the discontent has not gone away. it is not a coincidence when the protest happened, there was a video that went viral of a woman badmouthing a leader and saying that he has forced her and other women in the shiite community to
sell their bodies in a temporary marriage. it is basically legal prostitution encouraged by hezbollah and is also very popular in iran. marriage. this woman was basically telling him that his war in syria is forcing them to sell their bodies and it is not a coincidence that one of the first videos we saw in iran during these protests also is from a woman in iran's streets saying the same thing. it is not a coincidence because the grievances are the same and the context is the same. thank you. >> thank you, hanin. dare i ask if we can try again?
i apologize for the audio issues, but i want everyone to hear from him if at all. do we have the audio? >> can you hear me? hello? >> we can hear him a little bit. can we turn him up? just a moment. we are trying to increase your volume. go ahead and say something. >> is this ok now? >> is that all right? can people hear him? go ahead. >> speak loudly. >> good afternoon, everybody. can you hear me?
>> speak as loud as you can. >> recent protests in iran are just the extension of protests started about three months ago, as patrick mentioned. people lost money in banks and private financial institutions. the whole thing is not new, but the scale is obviously a new scale. i think it is different from what happened in 2009 because the protests in 2009 were in big cities. now they are in areas that were not heard of by people in the cities. the protests in 2009 were in big
>> i'm going to cut you off because it is just too quiet. i am afraid that folks are not able to make out what you are saying. apologies for that. i am going to instead moved to the question and answer period. i apologize for the audio issues. i want to move into a q&a and discuss the implications for u.s. policy and how we see things going forward. i will give folks in the audience a chance to ask their questions. i want to start with one question i think will be increasingly on people's minds as these protests develop or subside. if they don't subside, that has profound implications for iran and the region. assuming these protests are suppressed or fizzle out on
their own, i am curious as to what each of our speakers thinks will be the longer-term implications for iran and the region. one thing we saw after the 2009 green movement, after the people had been cleared out of the streets, you had this coalition between reformists forces and the more pragmatic traditional forces which put quite a bit of pressure on hardline elements of the regime that ultimately led to the election of hassan rouhani. any thoughts on what the longer-term implications of what we're seeing today might be? >> the big question is what is going to happen when khamenei dies. everyone assumes that is going to happen sooner or later and that is going to be a real moment of transition. who ever takes over for khamenei is going to have an opportunity to have a reset. the question is what will that reset look like? i would say is what these protests have done is shaken the conviction on the part of the islamic republic's leadership,
that they really have the hearts and minds of ordinary iranians. for all the noise that you hear in the big cities, especially north tehran, when you get right down to it, the hearts and minds of ordinary iranians are with them. and they cannot be sure of that any longer and they cannot be sure of just how much the ideology really matters to those people. and this is a regime built on ideology. if the ideology is going wobbly at the knees, that is a big problem. there have already been a lot of iranian commentators who have said that tehran feels more like the soviet union where everybody goes through the motions but that is not really what they are about. iran's successes abroad which has indeed led to quite a burst of nationalist pride in iran has let the regime kind of reinvent itself as iranian nationalists.
but if it turns out that ordinary iranians, while they may be proud of iran's accomplishments abroad, they don't want to pay for it and they would rather see the money used elsewhere. that is going to be a big problem for the regime. >> if i could dovetail with patrick's comments. many people including myself thought that as a result of the activities of the irgc in syria and in iraq against isil, the irgc gained a kind of new degree of respect in iranian society and their leader was kind of a rock star. what is interesting is the degree to which the hostility of many of the protesters are not
just erected against the clerics but against the irgc, which is part of this clerical military system which is deeply embedded in the economy. a lot of people assume that if there were to be a post clerical regime or even if the clerical regime was to continue after khamenei is dead, that the irgc's role would be stronger in a follow-on regime. that might still be the case, but where a few months ago it looked like many people would accept that or accept a run for president, it is not clear that that is going to be something that would lead to a more stable status quo after khamenei's death. but i pose it as a question, really. >> just one thing. i think a lot of people, speaking on the region, lebanon,
syria, iraq, yemen, elsewhere, especially in lebanon and iraq, it feels like a lot of people are surrendering to the idea that iran is winning and iran is there to stay and it is not going anywhere because of the status quo. any sign of weakness in iran and the regime puts forth, i think any sign will push people to reconsider, and i am thinking mostly in lebanon, and a lot of the political forces in lebanon today, so far, they are not there but at one point if this goes on, they might reconsider the recent compromises with hezbollah, regarding the political system and how things have changed and the compromises that killed the march 14 coalition, this sense of surrendering to the status quo might actually change and revive the forces that feel like it is time to actually take a stand.
to where no one is taking a stand. >> i think that would be good news from the point of view of u.s. policymakers. with that, let me open the floor to questions from our audience. if those of you watching from your snowbound homes have questions, feel free to tweet those at us. wait for the microphone. let me remind everyone that we are on the record and we are being broadcast live. go ahead. >> can anyone offer an evaluation of the size and significance of the pro-government rallies that have been taking place? >> what is most impressive is how long the government has
organized them. it is a highly honed apparatus for bringing people out, and they can usually turn out hundreds of thousands of people on the turn of a dime. and yet here we are, a week into the protests, a week it has taken them to get people out there. that is not very good. and furthermore, it should have been pretty easy because in the big cities, it is not where the protests were taking place. i am impressed by how slow the government has been in their usual efforts to bus in hundreds of thousands of people, and it suggests to me that the usual places that they go to round up people to bus them in, the free lunch and all that stuff, they were scared that people might not show up and that it was not as easy to round people up as it had been in the past. i'm assuming that the government is going to pull out all the stops for the usual kind of big
demonstrations that they have and that we are going to see some really impressive ones, but the fact that it took them a week to even get going. and today's pro-government demonstrations were bigger than the protests, not a surprise, but they were not the kind of massive sizes that we have seen in the past. >> i think we have a question in the second row. >> mike, you mentioned that you don't believe the jcpa, that they should be allowed to break that deal in order to impose sanctions again, would be a good policy. i guess i wanted to ask the panel about that, given the economic problems that are clearly a major part of what is causing these demonstrations, people opposed to the jcpa argue that the economic problems would have been worse if the jcpa did not open up investment.
i wanted to throw that out and ask a question about that more broadly. the second part of that is the europeans and russians have been reacting to this in different ways. in some of the statements being made and so on. could you describe what you see the europeans and russian government doing with regard to what is happening in iran? >> the iranians do a wonderful job of stopping people investing in their own country. the biggest barriers to investment inside iran has been the opposition that we have seen from people inside iran to the deals. many of the deals signed with foreign companies were actually going to be serious economic propositions and not just ways to feather your nest. not threatening the traditional threatening the traditional way -- that the well-connected making their money in iran and they did not like it.
there have been many complaints. the biggest problem of discouraging investment has in would say that fact been the uncertain business environment, the poor business conditions and the internal infighting that makes it so difficult. we are talking about a government which when it came to power five years ago said that within months it was going to be opening negotiations with foreign oil companies for investment inside iran. it did not happen. it still is not happening. that is what slows things down. a lot of european companies that were so enthusiastic about going into iran, including companies that signed these deals that get these headlines, nothing happens. they are realizing that iran is
a midsized market where you can make some money, but it is not going to be el dorado and it is not going to be the savior for the iranian economy, either. my biggest reason for saying that i don't want to see the pre-jcpoa sanctions reimposed is i don't want to change the topic. i want to keep the topic on the protests in iran. i don't want to make the whole focus be on the sanctions. i want to keep the focus on the problems inside iran. that is the center use of international attention. reporter: and the question about the european and russian reaction? >> i will give my own thoughts on the european and russian reaction. what we have seen so far is predictable from the russians. what the russians have said is, basically support the iranian regime's line which is that these protests are somehow
foreign-inspired, or the work of foreign agents. this is similar to the explanation russia would give to any kind of protest within russia it off, not surprising. russia is also one of iran's external allies. it is one reason why i don't think we will see any type of effective human action. it might be useful for the united states to put russia into the position to veto any such action. it might be useful for the u.s. to put russia in touch a position as to veto any action but i do not think they will do so. the europeans are more complicated, i think. because the united states would like to see some sort of joint statement, joint sentiment at least expressed between the united states and europe, to put some international pressure on the iranian regime, but it has not happened so far. instead, we have seen mild statements from the europeans which do not blame anyone.
and they call on all sides to refrain from violence. assist there is any equivalency between the iranian security forces in one hand and the people protesting on the other areas why do we see that? i think there are a few reasons and those reactions are milder than the european reactions in 2009. after the rigged election. one of my colleagues is writing a piece about this. erica who is sitting behind you, here. why is this -- i think there are number of possible reasons. the first is of course, the jcpoa itself and the economic cooperation that patrick was talking about between europe and iran. i think the europeans bristle at the idea that this is what determines their policy actions toward iran and if we had a european appear they would say -- no, that is not fair. and a
-- the second factor is that europeans have a tremendous amount invested in their relationships with rouhani and zarif. the european inclination is not to take the side of the street protesters but to try to work in dialogue with rouhani and hope that this episode will strengthen those that they consider their allies inside iran. third, i think since 2009, a lot of fatigue with what is happening in the middle east in general. since 2009, a lot has happened in the middle east and europe has bore the brunt of the flow of refugees from the middle east. as well as some terrorism coming out of the middle east, and i doubt they have the appetite for any more of this type of instability. and i am sure they are worried about that type of instability. finally, there's certainly some concern about the united states. we have these decisions looming about. sanctions, waivers, there's been serious questions about the american commitment to the nuclear deal. you already start with a gap between the united states and european positions on iran, which is quite different than 2009. personally, i think this should be an occasion for the u.s. and
europe to join voices together and put some join pressure on the regime. we may not fully agree on the nuclear question or iran's regional behavior, but we can agree on human rights in iran. so far, that has not been the case. any more questions? ginsberg.insperity -- >> excellent panel. i am from the contra-extremism project, and i was also in the white house in the state department during the iranian revolution in the 1979. so it is fascinating to watch this. >> so you were a young cadet then. >> yes, i was a young kid. the obama administration officials such as phil gordon and susan rice are urging everyone to be quiet in the editorial, op-ed writing. don't do anything, don't say anything to rock the vote. -- don't say anything to rock the boat.
patrick was absolutely right, i agree with him about the issue on sanctions. where do you all come out on as a policy for the united states where the obama administration in its infinite efforts to get the jcppoa passed, took regime-change off the table? it seems like the trump administration would like to put regime-change on the table. >> let me just ask hanin. is u.s. support or silence better in this circumstance? of course, you're coming from the region itself. the trump administration has been careful so far to say explicitly that they are not seeking a regime change. i think they've been pretty explicit on that point. just as a clarification. do you have thoughts on this? >> it is not a good idea. knowing how iran functions in the region, specifically iran
moves to fill vacuums, always. vacuums in syria and iraq, wherever there's unsettling events, they go fill the vacuum. it's easy to know the absence of any american policy in syria led to a stronger iran, and it is still happening because nothing is being done. iran doesn't want any confrontation with the u.s. a couple of confrontations in syria -- it's obvious that iran is trying to avoid confrontations with the u.s.. silence by the u.s. at this point, will throw demonstrators under the bus. i don't think it is a good idea. a lot of things can be done, it does not have to be military support, but many things can be done in order to ensure that support is provided for the
demonstrators, and for people in the region, as a whole. people who are looking at iran, need to know that the u.s. is on their side. >> can i? look, iran's narrative is we support friends, the u.s. doesn't. it is a very strong narrative each is used very effectively, in such situations. if the united states government is seen as not supporting people who are protesting, iran will use that to once again be this -- to feed this narrative. the u.s. doesn't come to anybody's health, whereas iran does quickly. on this on, i'm with hillary clinton. she described in 2014 the actions in 2009 as a big mistake. i'm with her. >> on the question of regime change, the supreme leader spent 20 years warning the united states its objective is to use
cultural invasion to undermine the islamic republic. that is a man was made it very clear that he is more concerned about hollywood than he is about washington. his idea of u.s. efforts to bring about regime change is "argo." >> you're talking about the movie, not the ancient greeks. [laughter] the movie. when michelle obama is up there giving this award to this movie, that feeds their image that the united states government is coordinating with hollywood to undermine the islamic republic. many of us know the director of the woodrow wilson center program in the middle east. she was arrested in iran.
when she was visiting her ailing grandmother. when faced with by both noam chomsky and george bush, who issued appeals for her release, the regime put on a program on television which explained why they were holding her. and they had an animation of george soros' weekly meetings with george bush in the white house to plan how they were going to undermine the islamic republic area and not all of us knew that mr. soros was seeing mr. bush on a weekly basis. we certainly didn't realize that they were planning together to overthrow the islamic republic. that's what they put on television. they really believe this stuff, people. so you think that our refrain if from saying we want regime change will change his mind? when that is all he is wanted for 20 years and speaks about all the time? come on, give me a break. >> just two points. first, with regard to the public diplomacy, i would argue for a very calibrated approach to our
use of language that i think, first of all, if we are too full throated in our support for the people -- ultimately, if the protests fizzle, you only highlight your impotence and the regime is able to crow their success. so i think it is important for us to come out on behalf of the protesters and their right to protest, and their right for their human rights cannot be infringed upon by the regime. just be careful how you do it. also, i am not sure how this plays a big factor in the current context, but if you are too full throated, you might
also alter some people's calculus in iran in terms of whether they want to be seen as -- there is a conspiratorial approach, even in iran, looking at development in their own country. it is not exclusively a worldview of that regime, of the people. it might affect the calculus of it is also them. people who might otherwise be willing to join the opposition. if they hear it is an american project -- it's hard to know. being in washington. it is hard to know. so i would argue for speaking up, but not too loudly. consistently, but not too loudly. as for regime change, i would focus on destabilization as opposed to regime change. we're not going to have a big impact here. we can, though, in certain contexts hold out the threat in the context of our geopolitical competition with iran in the region, if they start attacking
american soldiers or american interests directly, then we will bring the conflict home. if there's a conducive context to that now, more so than in the past, that gives us the ability it to impose forces on them, to divert the resources to internal security, more than they have in recent years. so that is the way that i tend to look at this, in terms of the broader geopolitical competition. i don't know how to engineer regime change from washington. we can help around the edges at most. but we can impose costs and make things tougher for them at home if they do things against us in the region. >> i have two questions.
i am from the center of american progress. some of the early demonstrations were in certain cities. i was hoping someone could comment on whether there is a meaningful minority dimension to this, that is affecting the course of the protest were creating opportunities along the i was hoping someone could lines that mike was just talking about. second of all, i think it was yesterday on the new york times, sometime this week, there was an article they that one of the early triggers of the protest was a leak a few months ago of a budget that revealed spending on islamic institutions and on clerics that had never previously been revealed. i wonder if anyone is familiar with the document. the article didn't go into a lot of detail on it.
has it been explored by experts on the side of the ocean? >> let me start with the second question. that leak drew no articles in any american newspaper whatsoever. that speech is much blunter than usual. >> i quoted one thing he had to say about the banking system, but he had a lot of things to say in here. he laid out a much more realistic number for a lot of things. it was much more transparent. on one year, he said the budget was just nine pages. basically, i want to spend what i want to spend. that is it. give me authority to spend what i want to spend. but this year's budget speech is extremely blunt.
and this year's budget is much more honest than in previous years. am i going to say, that is in order to provoke demonstrations? i do not think so. it fits with the whole technocratic approach of the rouhani government that wants more transparency to flesh things out more. that was there aim. not to provoke demonstrations, give me a break. the revolutionary guards have traditionally maintained that they spend what they feel like. it is not up to them, it is not up to the president to decide. and he is saying, no, that is not true, you have to get allocation. all of that stuff. on the minorities, we put out a piece, and what it says is that half of iran is made up of non-persians. if you're going to have the provinces demonstrating, you're going to have a fair number of non-persians demonstrating.
by the way, interestingly, increasingly, you find minorities in the cities. one of the things that mehdi was going to speak about if he spoke here was a study that he is completing for us about the city of mashad where this demonstration started. there are well over a million sunnis living there. they are very unhappy. they are subject to a great deal of discrimination. isis is doing quite an successful job in recruiting from there. iran is beginning to have a serious isis problem on its hands because of the way it treats its sunnis. there are a lot of ethnic minority problems in iran. when the heartland starts demonstrating, that comes out. there were a fair number of demands. ethnic nationalism is also a problem.
there's the azerbaijani nationalism, the big thing is on december 22, you get hundreds of thousands marching four hours up a mountaintop -- that's what they do. how you get them to march in a mountain full of snow, i do not know. >> can i ask you, this issue of the budget and how much iran spends on its foreign ventures has been noticed a lot in the western media as something that seems to be animating some of these protests. how has that reverberated in lebanon, which is the destination for some of that money? has this issue of iran spending
in lebanon become a political issue. has that been evaporated or is it most the on the mark? >> you mean the recent protests? so far, lebanon, everybody has been very, very careful, looking at this. because they do not want to make conclusions. some are excited, some are afraid. to the extent that one of them give an exclusive interview yesterday to not comment on this. this issue of budget, the military budget has been a big issue in lebanon for a long time. this is not recent. mainly it was the shia community which has been affected mostly by this budget cuts and budget changes. hezbollah in lebanon build itself on three pillars. one is in the resistance, the day one it is no longer a priority. social services, which have been drastically cut, and the only thing remaining, the shia identity, which is connected to the kerbelah and the collective memory of the shia. that's the only thing linking the people in lebanon and iran.
everything else is an issue. this all started in 2012, when they publicly announced their involvement and started making the budget cuts. >> we have a question in the back, over here. >> hudson institute. patrick, the question about the pro-government rallies, pointed out this took quite a while. in that sense, it is a departure from the usual playbook. i was wondering from michael's remarks whether there were additional departures from the playbook --for example, as far as i'm aware, they have not
deployed the weapons that they did in 2009. it has been a police force and three units of the irgc from three separate provinces. my question is, do you feel there is considerable uncertainty or division, potentially damaging- divisions within the leadership in confronting this particular crisis? >> i will just talk about the division of labor and the security forces. it's really hard to get a handle because of the poor quality of videos coming out, exactly who's doing what. the impression that i get based , on statements of iranian officials and what you can see in some of the videos, the law enforcement forces are the first line, backed up by the siege. i have not been seeing, although maybe it's just not coming out,
i haven't seen vigilantes like we have seen in the past in show that might be in part because there's maybe been a process of professionalization of the security force. maybe, who knows. i don't quite know . we've had statements saying they've been helping the law enforcement forces. which again, reinforces my impression that bashir supports them. there was a statement from the commander saying irgc units had been deployed to a three central provinces. let me just say also it's really , hard to get your arms around this. my impression was that in the past, iran has devoted a lot of resources to creating internal security capabilities in the big cities. in iran, in tehran, you have the base, operation center or headquarters.
they have exercises, they put on videos. these are guys who say they are irgc, on motorcycles. if they were planning -- if most of their assets are in the big cities, now, you have a nationwide protest in the midsize and malls 80's and towns, and they need time to redeploy. i do not think they were really set up to deal with the small town or rural protest movement, because the infrastructure was mainly in the big cities. that's where we will see investment in the coming years, i think. investment in the coming years. the infrastructure will have to come to small towns and cities.
>> it was interesting to witness this very thoughtful discussion. i am here from the russian embassy. i have two minor remarks about russia. we never said it was inspired from outside. what we said was to avoid manipulations or speculations were going on, it goes with the principle of non-interference. we see it as an internal affair of iran, for the government and iranian people to decide. they are doing things, finding remedies and solutions to it. secondly, why is it so, except for international law, that it is our neighbor.
it has been a neighbor for a long time. it is a friendly country for us. we have a lot of different kinds of relationships with them bilaterally. so we believe that the best way for the security and peace in the region and for the internal security in iran and other countries, is to simply adhere to these noninterference principles. thank you. >> by the way, one of our colleagues had a piece in the hill, in which he said that the russian reaction to these developments was much more restrained in its comments then in russian reactions to protests elsewhere. she thought that was an interesting phenomenon. >> ok. more questions? alright, wait, we have one more question in the back.
right before the buzzer. go ahead. >> thank you. i was wondering what patrick's response was to my earlier question. but i do want to ask about the internal order. but also, a question for patrick. the picture you described looks quite desperate. the economic situation. do you think it will in fact collapse? if so, what happens then? >> can i just add one thing? the economic situation has not been great in 2017. but it was a lot worse before. many things, as you said, have been through for a long time. lots of spending on foreign priorities, unemployment. so to supplement his question, i might ask, what makes today different? >> the macroeconomic situation
is pretty good. the government has a lot of margin to resolve the country's problems. in spite of ahmadinejad's best efforts to steal everything that wasn't nailed down, government is still small relative to gdp in the united states. the banking system is in bad shape, but boy, nothing compares -- compared to the situation in iceland or cyprus. it's more like italy and spain. and we have lots of experience on how to deal with these things, we have lots of people who can provide good advice such as the imf and other institutions, on what to do. but it has been impressive, they spent two years dithering about modest changes in the central bank's authority, and they did
not spend it talking about setting up a bad bank with loans. you have a real serious banking crisis. it's nothing like the scale of a banking crisis we saw in cyprus and in iceland, to countries -- two countries which dealt very effectively with their banking. -- with their bank -- with their banking crisis. so the inability of the authorities to take a tough decision that is the fundamental problem here. in fact, it would be quite possible to resolve these economic problems. similarly, even though there's been reasonable economic growth, one could imagine a set of economic policies that direct that growth more towards ordinary people. but what we have seen instead is the rouhani government is doing the kinds of things that the imf would approve off, which is taking the easy route out, finding ways to cut spending and raising taxes. it ends up hitting the poor, and there is no trickle down.
it is not necessary. frankly, it would be possible to come up with a different set of policies that address an awful lot of the concerns of the ordinary people. maybe a positive insurance system for the banks, excuse me! there are few countries that don't have a deposit insurance system. it is not revolutionary. it really would be possible to implement that, instead of having these people on the on the streets in tehran who because they lost their entire life savings -- the millions of people that rouhani referred to in his speech that were completely ruined, we could address that problem. it would not be that hard. i have to say that i'm impressed by the economic incompetence. of the successive iranian governments, and it not dealing with these things. there's clearly a deadlock in
decision-making deadlock in tehran which is much worse than the deadlock in partisan-decision-making here in washington. >> that brings us to the end of our time. i would like to thank our panelists. [applause] >> thank you. i want to thank our staff and thank our staff around the room assisted in the events. and you, thank you for watching and coming. have a good day. journal,'s washington live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up this morning, we take a look at the future of health care and what changes congress is considering this year with julie rosner. and the latest on the protests in iran. and the response from the trump administration with foundation for the defense of democracies
representative. c-span's washington journal, beginning at 7:00 eastern this morning . join the discussion. >> president trump has finished his meetings with republican congressional leadership and some cabinet members at camp david. the purpose of the gathering was to outline a legislative agenda for 2018. following the meeting, the president took questions from the news media. this is 20 minutes. president trump: thank you very much. it's good to have you at camp david, a very special place. we started, as you know, yesterdaaf